Is Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC) Serious Condition?


Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is a long-term autoimmune liver disorder that leads to swelling and damage in the small bile ducts of the liver. If the disease is not diagnosed or treated, it can cause serious scarring in the liver, hepatic failure, and liver transplant needs. Therefore, it is important to realize the risk factors and warning signs associated with the disease as early as possible. The condition was once known as "primary biliary cirrhosis" but PBC patient advocacy groups and medical experts elected to change the name in 2015. Many individuals with the condition felt that using the word cirrhosis conveyed an incorrect connection with alcohol intake and was deceptive given that most people living with primary biliary cholangitis are not affected by advanced liver damage.

Am I at risk for primary biliary cholangitis?

Women who are middle-aged are at the greatest risk for PBC. Experts estimate that the condition impacts one in 1,000 women over the age of 40. While men can get PBC as well, approximately 90% of patients who have the disease are women. Primary biliary cholangitis may be prevalent within some families, and you might be at an elevated risk if you have a parent, child, or sibling who has been diagnosed with PBC. Additionally, no less than 50% of individuals with PBC also have another autoimmune disease. People who are living with health issues, like, Raynaud's phenomenon, Sjogren's syndrome, and autoimmune thyroid disease, must be especially aware of their health risks. The precise source of primary biliary cholangitis remains unknown, but it is not communicable and is not caused by alcohol consumption.

The symptoms and warning signs of PBC

PBC can take many years to present symptoms in certain individuals. Numerous symptoms of the disease are a lot like those of other health problems, making it challenging to detect. In many cases, people with primary biliary cholangitis get diagnosed because signs of liver damage are detected during regular liver testing. Standard lab testing is a common way to assess liver function and often involves evaluating:

- alanine aminotransferase (ALT)

- albumin

- aspartate aminotransferase (AST)

- prothrombin time (PT)

- alkaline phosphatase (ALP)

- gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT)

- bilirubin

Among those experiencing signs or symptoms of primary biliary cholangitis, the most frequently observed include exhaustion and pruritus (itching).

How is PBC identified?

The health marker doctors first look at to diagnose PBC is an individual's alkaline phosphatase (ALP) level.

- During the early phases of primary biliary cholangitis, abnormally high ALP could be an early warning sign that PBC could be present.

- An abnormally increased level of ALP can point to liver damage.

- ALP, sometimes referred to as "alk phos,” is an enzyme found in the body.

Moreover, it is critical to evaluate for AMAs (antimitochondrial antibodies) in instances where PBC is likely.

- Antimitochondrial antibodies are substances made by the body's immune system.

- The presence of AMAs is an indicator of PBC.

In some instances, doctors perform a biopsy of the liver to establish a diagnosis of PBC and to evaluate disease progression. However, biopsies of the liver are not always required to diagnose primary biliary cholangitis.

Can primary biliary cholangitis be treated?

To date, there is no known cure for PBC, but there are two medications that have been approved for use in the United States. These medications assist in managing the disease and help slow down the further progression of damage in the liver. Professional standards advocate that physicians assess alkaline phosphatase levels in those who have primary biliary cholangitis every 3 to 6 months to follow disease progression and observe how well any prescribed medication is working. Since primary biliary cholangitis is an uncommon health disease, a number of individuals search for treatment from gastrointestinal doctors and hepatologists who have specialty training in providing care for conditions involving the liver.

Get help for primary biliary cholangitis in Dallas, TX

If you or a family member could be living with PBC, we encourage you to learn more about this condition. Sunday, September 12th is recognized as International Primary Biliary Cholangitis Day, and September is designated as is Primary Biliary Cholangitis Awareness Month. This also creates the opportunity for patients who are experiencing the liver problem to recognize the triumphs of the PBC patient community and bring about awareness of primary biliary cholangitis. For more information, reach out to Digestive Health Associates of Texas today. You can schedule a visit with one of our Dallas, TX gastroenterologists to talk about your PBC risk factors and find out about alkaline phosphatase testing.